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Visual Management: Seeing is Believing

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One of the many advantages of Lean is its ability to connect team members with standardized methodologies on a shared platform to foster greater collaboration. The value of everyone being on the same page delivers tremendous value in helping stakeholders understand and respond to the challenges and tasks at hand. Going Lean can deliver even more actionable intelligence and oversight by capturing and displaying processes and data in visual form. This capability is generally referred to as Visual Management (VM). Think of it as a constant stream of snapshots of what is going on within the business. 

As with virtually all aspects of Lean, VM makes it easier to “see” the activities within all departments in real-time, across the entire organization. Having a customized ERP or MRP solution in place that leverages Lean principles is ideally suited to deliver graphical visualizations of core activities – from the front office, to the shop floor and production line. Let’s explore how visual management can be transformative in your business by making information more available through the centralized dashboard below.

Start by defining your VM goals 

In crafting a VM strategy, it’s important to understand which aspects of the workplace you can conceptualize and then turn into charts, graphs, value streams, etc.  Software designed to bring Lean methodologies into the workplace provides the tools and dashboards to present such data and status alerts in an understandable and visually appealing manner. Once implemented, managers and employees alike can benefit from the “visual cues” in the form of easy-to-understand indicators.  

Goals of Visual Management: 

  • Display relevant information with visual signals as a quicker, more impactful means of communication than written text in printouts, reports, or emails. 
  • Use of color coded visuals or data for maximum recognition, clarity and efficiency. 
  • Standardization of display methods for universal ease of understanding. 
  • Provide an “action component” to permit immediate feedback when procedures are not being followed in the production process. 

A large body of research such as this thesis entitled ‘Visual Management in Engineering Can Improve Resource Utilization and Reduce Administrative Non-Value Added Time Utilization and Reduce Administrative Non-Value Added Time (Western Kentucky University, Brian Kirby Trent) support the validity of VM, especially in the context of these benefits: Seeing data displayed visually has a greater impact; creates a better recall of information viewed; and data absorbed visually is more likely to be kept top of mind. From a teambuilding perspective, teams provided with the same visual cues are more likely to share the same vantage point of the information and the processes the data is drawn from. 

Example of a dashboard displaying metrics visually for senior executives and managers (Image courtesy of SAP)  

Closing the VM Information Loop 

To maximize usefulness of the VM system, it must both display timely and relevant information graphically, but also solicit immediate action from those viewing the display to improve results by taking corrective steps when necessary. For example, team members must understand what is being tracked by indicators and what stage a given process is in at any moment. 

Should the display indicate something has fallen out of expected tolerances or a process has been interrupted, the VM should be specific enough that workers can react by knowing where the problem may have occurred and which steps are the appropriate response.  

As in all Lean objectives, the goal is to remove inefficiencies and reduce waste by catching issues as they arise and keep to a minimum inventory in a Work in Process (WIP) state. By meeting the required demand for each product but not exceeding it, the goals of Lean and agile manufacturing can be maximized which provide a higher level of inventory liquidity to support improved cash flow and better customer service. 

Visual display of alerts indicates in real-time when a process is out of control or production problems are occurring (Image courtesy of SAP)  

VM has been shown to increase the knowledge of each process in play, making it more likely that every team member knows what measures can correct an out-of-control process when it occurs. Visual management also conveys expectations, standards, and actions to take when problems occur. 

Benefits of Visual Management: 

  • Helps to shorten lead times 
  • Decreases Work In Process (WIP) 
  • Distributes real-time operational information across the enterprise 
  • Standardizes how information is displayed  
  • Reduces waste and identifies inefficiencies 
  • Brings clarity and understanding to each process in use 
  • Alerts stakeholders to anomalies and problems as they arise 
  • Provides a mechanism for taking corrective actions  
  • Shutdown response can prevent equipment damage and wasted inventory  
  • Supports a culture of responsiveness and safety  

Inclusion of a customized VM component within an ERP or MRP system makes it possible to show a graphical representation of Lean methodologies in use. This helps empowered team members to play a more active and accountable role on the shop floor and production line. Simply having a greater understanding of where materials are at within a process provides managers and workers with insights useful for improving processes and preventing issues from occurring. 

Attivo solutions, including Attivo All-In-One powered by SAP Business One, provide VM opportunities for optimizing the efficiencies and management of virtually all operations. For example, the project management module can connect projects throughout the organization and separate individual projects into stages. Other functions can track production by using bills of materials for separate items, isolate production orders, and aggregate inventory and resource master data. These tools and capabilities make it possible to determine the precise status of each process digitally and correlate that data with materials as the move from inventory through the shop floor. 

If you’re interested in exploring how visual management can deliver a wide spectrum of benefits, efficiencies, and cost savings to your organization. Connect with us to discuss a customized solution specific to your needs and business objectives.  

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